A Man's World: Touring Australia

The land that feminism forgot

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

"I think she's okay ... you mean Harleys?"

"I'm fine, but I don't want to ride in the dark again tonight."

"Yeh, those." He spat in the dust. "Theey're not a maotorsoicle. Theey're a loif-stoil."

I blushed a deep Ducati red, complete with pink undercoat.

Fredo's Pies was on our itinerary, but we had detoured an extra 220 kilometers for our Grafton loop. I was confident at the first sign, showing Kempsey 110 kilometers down the road when we were punting along at a briskly scofflaw 130 per, but Pacific Highway is no U.S.-style interstate.

The next sign I read announced "KEMPSEY 60" just as we entered a 50-kph town, then slowed for a construction zone marked at 40. Crossing Columbatti Creek at Clybucca, Pretty Wife pounded at the particularly efficacious spot on my torn rotator cuff to signal her urgent requirement for dialog.

"Ow!"

"I'm cold, I'm tired and this seat is killing me."

"I know, sweetie."

"You promised to get me to Fredo's."

"Yes, I did."

"It's getting late. What if they're closed?"

What to say? That Kempsey had proven asymptotical, seeming almost to recede as we approached?

In a full-face helmet, no one knows if you're crying and it's not their business, anyway. During four cold days over the road, wearing a camera pack and living out of her half of a messenger bag, I hadn't heard a single snivel, but now she couldn't stop her shoulders from shaking.

There was nowhere to go but onward. Ten minutes later, she pounded my shoulder (same damn spot!) and I hooked a wobbly right-hand U-turn.

Fredo's Pies & Ice Creams, a tiny roadside storefront, has awards plastered over every square centimeter of wall. Sunshine had given way to brisk winter darkness, and they were mopping up for the morrow when we walked through the door into bright lights and the smell of hot food.

Snuggling together in the lone plastic chair, we socked away rich steak-and-onion and kangaroo pies, a beef-and-veg pasty and a sausage roll. Then we found a hotel and visited the local Wooly's for a jug of creamy milk and a lamington for anniversary dessert, plus breakfast goodies.

At the fuel station, a guy about my age in head-to-foot leathers advised Pretty Wife, "Don't take too much wind, luv. They'll tax you for it."

Pretty Wife pointed. "He's my windshield."

"Oi." He grinned. "You're jist using him for his body, then."

With that, he leapt into a Mad Max Holden coupe complete with whining supercharger and screamed off into the night at precisely the speed limit, politely signaling each lane change.

The next morning I was still whupped, but my fever had broken. We shared a slow, sweet breakfast of hot buttered crumpets, oranges and coffee sachets.

Pretty Wife looked out the window at our bike and brushed the last wind through her sable hair.

"My whole head's ringing," she said. "It's not my ears. It's my head."

It was mutual. The GT1000's windshield constantly turbulated my noggin with furious wallaby kicks. It's the first bike I've flatly refused to ride above town speeds without earplugs. Must be getting old.

The Duck was torquey good fun, though, handsome and comfortable for solo day trips. Some goodies in a magnetic tank bag might have made it a touch less wheelie-happy. With the Ducati Luggage Rack Bag ($180), it would even make a great weekender-for one. On any Ducati short of the new Multistrada, however, two-up forays over bumptious ribbons of road are exercises in passenger forbearance.

Still, Pretty Wife suited up to ride and stood by the bike, tapping her Lady Daytonas. In 2300 kilometers of riding we'd accomplished nearly everything on our list, from whale watching and pub stays to nature hikes and friendly visits. Everything except the relaxing beach time I hadpromised back in the States before we wrote that check for airfare.

"Hurry up," she said. "We need to get to the museum."

With that, he leapt into a Mad Max Holden coupe complete with whining supercharger and screamed off into the night at precisely the speed limit, politely signaling each lane change.

The next morning I was still whupped, but my fever had broken. We shared a slow, sweet breakfast of hot buttered crumpets, oranges and coffee sachets.

Pretty Wife looked out the window at our bike and brushed the last wind through her sable hair.

"My whole head's ringing," she said. "It's not my ears. It's my head."

It was mutual. The GT1000's windshield constantly turbulated my noggin with furious wallaby kicks. It's the first bike I've flatly refused to ride above town speeds without earplugs. Must be getting old.

The Duck was torquey good fun, though, handsome and comfortable for solo day trips. Some goodies in a magnetic tank bag might have made it a touch less wheelie-happy. With the Ducati Luggage Rack Bag ($180), it would even make a great weekender-for one. On any Ducati short of the new Multistrada, however, two-up forays over bumptious ribbons of road are exercises in passenger forbearance.

Still, Pretty Wife suited up to ride and stood by the bike, tapping her Lady Daytonas. In 2300 kilometers of riding we'd accomplished nearly everything on our list, from whale watching and pub stays to nature hikes and friendly visits. Everything except the relaxing beach time I had promised back in the States before we wrote that check for airfare.

"Hurry up," she said. "We need to get to the museum."

And with that we were off, not to the promised relaxing beach but to Nabiac, home of Brian Kelleher's lore-bespangled National Motorcycle Museum.

Practically skipping into the bike barn, I grabbed her Nikon and babbled a firm promise to lash through it in 20 minutes. Walking slowly out half an hour later, I handed over the camera.

"Your eyes are shining."

"There are bikes in there I've never even heard of."

Pretty Wife turned to the counter man. "I'll need a ticket, too. We're gonna be here a while."

Best wife ever, and why she puts up with me I'll never know. Making Pretty Wife wait three years for a honeymoon, then dragging her along on a minimalist motorcycle trip was fairly self-indulgent. Skewing our trip toward bikes, beer and barbecue in the land that feminism forgot could be construed as callous. But nothing expresses the depth of my selfishness more than this:

"Please, God, let her live one day longer than me."

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